By Rick Lund / Seattle Times staff
Rick Lund is a news presentation editor at The Seattle Times. He was the paper’s assistant sports editor from 2001-2006.
Marv Harshman’s University of Washington men’s basketball program was going through a rare lean period, and his old Northwest coaching nemesis didn’t have much sympathy.
I was a young sportswriter in Oregon in the early 1980s when I interviewed Oregon State Coach Ralph Miller at a Beaver Club function. The relationship between Miller and Harshman had gone south years earlier when Harshman spoke out against star player Lonnie Shelton’s court case to invalidate a signing with the old American Basketball Association so he could return to OSU.
When I asked Miller about the status of the UW basketball program, the crusty old coach took a puff on his signature Tiparillo cigar, and had some harsh words for Harshman.
“Marv’s finished at Washington,” Miller said. “He doesn’t have a pot to. …”
You probably can fill in the rest of that sentence.
While the Huskies were struggling to finish above .500 and were losing local high-school stars such as Blair Rasmussen and Rodnie Taylor to Oregon, Quin Snyder to Duke and Brian Schwabe to Northwestern, Miller was building a powerhouse in Corvallis. Oregon State, at the peak of its Orange Express run though the Pac-10 with Steve Johnson, Mark Radford, Ray Blume and Charlie Sitton, was consistently ranked among the top teams in the nation in the early 1980s. And the talented Beavers regularly put a beatdown on Harshman’s outmanned Huskies.
But if there’s one thing I observed about Marv Harshman over the course of his 40-year collegiate coaching career it was this: He was a fierce competitor.
Coming off a 14-13 season in 1981, and with some local players going elsewhere, Harshman turned to Europe to press the restart button on the Husky program. After getting some production out of Icelandic 7-foot center Petur Gudmundsson in the late 70s, Harshman struck gold in 1982 with the recruitment of a versatile 6-foot-7 forward from Germany by the name of Detlef Schrempf. Two years later Schrempf was joined by fellow German Christian Welp, a skilled 7-foot center. He surrounded them with supporting players Paul Fortier, Shag Williams, Reggie Rogers, Alvin Vaughn and Clay Damon.
Schrempf and Welp led Washington back to the top of the Pac-10. The 1984 team went 24-7, tied Oregon State for the Pac-10 championship and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
In 1985, Harshman’s final season, the Huskies finished 22-10, shared the conference title with USC and advanced to the NCAAs. A key victory in that run for the Pac-10 crown came in, of all places, Corvallis. In a bit of poetic justice, in the final meeting between two old Pac-10 coaching warhorses, the Huskies knocked the Beavers out of first place, pounding Miller’s team, 60-45.
Anywhere else, the school is locking up that coach to a contract extension. But sadly, that would be the end of the Harshman era.
Harshman was only 67 when he was forced into retirement by then-UW president William Gerberding. That’s fairly young by today’s standards. Longtime Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim is 69 and bristled at questions this past season that he might be even entertaining thoughts of retirement. Miller was 70 when he stepped down at Oregon State. Another coaching icon of the day, Ray Meyer, was 70 when he called it quits at DePaul.
Harshman’s unfortunate exit signaled a stretch of some very bad men’s basketball for several seasons under coaches Andy Russo and Lynn Nance. It was a shame. And I would like to think even Miller regretted those comments he made to me in 1982, and was sad to see his old coaching rival prematurely shuffled into retirement.
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